Criticism of children’s literature is not, although it too often may seem so, a phenomenon of the later half of the 20th century. The contradiction between didactics and aesthetics, for many established as an axiom in modern children’s literature research, has been contra productive when it comes to differences between older and modern literature. While older has become representative for the didactic, the simple and the single-minded, modern has become representative for the aesthetic, the complex and the multifold (the ambiguous). Beginning with an analysis of the very early research in the field of children’s literature, the article points at several inconsistencies in the principles of later research. A presentation of international studies of importance for later surveys and historical works, among them the American scholar William Sloane and his comparative studies of children’s literature in the 17th and 20th centuries, is conducted in order to contextualise links between different kind of historical perspectives on literature, art and childhood. The bottom-line is what primarily counts in the history of research. Paradigms in some works easily get the status of established truths and are passed on without discussion, while others simply vanish from the bibliographies without comments. On basis of an extensive material of texts, theories and pictures (comparisons with pictorial art are taken in) the article analyses from a constructional perspective long lived assumptions and paradigms and argues for a new methodology – the archaeology of children’s literature research - that includes both the research itself and the researcher. Examples from recent research (Penny Brown, Beverly Lyon Clark, Marah Gubar) clearly show that contextualising literature within history, criticism and debate may result in new and corrective approaches. Motifs, passions and goals of the researcher are all part of the research. Self-reflection is the central keyword.
Keywords: criticism of children’s literature, history of children’s literature, childhood, didactics, aesthetics, research, paradigm, context, self-reflection.
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